HC Deb 05 March 1948 vol 448 cc699-704
Mr. J. Griffiths

I beg to move, in page 28, line 45, at the end, to insert: (3) For the purposes of the application of the last foregoing Subsection to payments in respect of assistance given before the complaint was made, a person shall not be treated as having at the time when the complaint is heard any greater resources than he had at the time when the assistance was given. One of the things which goes with the passing of this Measure is something of which many of us have bitter memories, the old practice of relief on loan. We felt, after the Committee stage, that there was perhaps a loophole and that retrospective claims might be made. That was not our intention, and therefore we move this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Molson

I beg to move, in page 29, line 27, to leave out from "benefit," to the end of line 31, and to insert: of the Board and of the local authority giving the assistance under Part III of this Act in such proportions, respectively, as the cost of the assistance provided by the Board under Part II of this Act bears to the cost of the assistance provided by the local authority under Part III of this Act, in so far as such cost is not met by any payments made or refunded to the local authority in respect of the person assisted under Sections twenty-one or twenty-five of this Act. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) and other hon. Members had Amendments dealing with this matter in the Standing Committee. We discussed the matter together and came to the conclusion that the wording used by the hon. Member for Barking was more appropriate than our Amendment for giving effect to the purpose we had in mind. We have, therefore, put down this Amendment, and I wish to acknowledge that the drafting is that of the hon. Member for Barking, and not our own.

The purpose of the Amendment is to provide that in cases where money has been paid both by the Assistance Board and the local authority, and maintenance is recovered from someone who under this Bill is liable to pay the maintenance, the sum of money recovered shall be divided between the Assistance Board and the local authority proportionately and fairly. Under the Bill as at present drafted, it is provided that the whole of the sum recovered shall go to the Assistance Board, and only in so far as there is some money over shall any contribution be made to the local authority.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Barking appeared plausible and that the matter appeared unfair to local authorities, but he went on to say that it only appeared to be unfair, and adduced reasons why he thought it was not, in fact, unfair. I am sure he will agree that he was not very successful in carrying conviction to hon. Members in Committee upstairs. Not only did he fail to convince the hon. Member for Barking, but other hon. Members, and we ask the Government to consider the matter again. As the hon. Member for Barking said, the Parliamentary Secretary's argument assumed that the maintenance of the person only amounted to 215., and in fact the cost of providing maintenance by the local authority was not greater than what the local authority was entitled to recover from the Assistance Board. It appears probable that in most cases where relief has been given by the local authority, the local authority will, in fact, be out of pocket to a greater extent than when it is able to recover the money from the Assistance Board.

We base the Amendment on the plain principle of equity, that where the local authority and the central Government have both made contributions towards the relief of a person in distress, and as a result of a court order money is recovered from a person who, under this Bill, is under obligation to pay towards the cost of that maintenance, the sum recovered should be equitably divided between the central and local authorities, and no priority should be given to the Assistance Board.

Mr. Nield

I beg to second the Amendment.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Steele

We had a considerable amount of discussion on this matter in Committee. As the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) said, I did not succeed in convincing the Committee that the Subsection is equitable and fair as it stands. I hope the House will bear with me when I try to make a clearer explanation and to convince the House that Subsection (5) is equitable, and carries out the principles embodied in the Bill. The first thing that must be borne in mind is what this Bill does. Under Clause 20 the responsibility to provide accommodation is placed fairly and squarely upon the local authorities. Secondly, under Clause 27, the Bill lays down the arrangements whereby a grant is made from the Exchequer to the local authorities for that purpose. The important thing that the Bill does however—and this is relevant to my argument—is to assure to the local authorities a minimum of 2rs. per week for every resident, irrespective of the source from which that sum might come; it may be the resident personally or, if the resident has not the resources to make this contribution, then the Assistance Board will make that necessary provision. The Bill does that, and it is an important change, and one which is a valuable contribution from the point of view of the local authorities.

It is only when the individual has not sufficient resources to enable him or her to pay to the local authority the 21s, that was mentioned that the Assistance Board enters into the matter. The Assistance Board then makes up those resources to 26s. a week, that is, 21s, for the local authority and 5s, for pocket money, as it intended. It is against that background of the minimum guarantee of 21s. to the local authority that we must discuss this Amendment. Since the Committee stage, I have had an opportunity to discuss this matter with many interested people, and I wish to give an instance of how this Subsection would work. I take as case "A" the example of a husband and wife who have separated, and the wife is in accommodation which is provided by the local authority, there being a voluntary arrangement whereby the husband pays to the local authority 30s. per week. In that case the Assistance Board are not concerned because the resources of the individual are more than 26s. per week. That is the straightforward case, and it is true, as I have found from inquiries I have made in this matter, that the vast majority of cases are covered by a voluntary arrangement.

I now take case "B." Here we have the same position: a husband and wife are separated and the wife is in a hostel, but in this case the husband refuses to make any contribution. In the meantime, the Board will be required to make a contribution of 26s. per week, that is to say, 2IS. Will go to the local authority and 5s. for pocket money for the individual concerned. In this instance, in which the husband has sufficient resources, the local authority or the Board—and in these matters we can be assured that they will act jointly—will have the opportunity to go to court to get a maintenance order. Let us assume that the court makes an order for the payment of 30s. per week. Two things have happened. First of all, the court will have decided whether there should be any retrospective payment. They will also have decided what the rate of payment is to be in the future. How is the amount of the retrospective payment to be divided?

Mr. Messer

Is that actually the case? I have been at public assistance meetings and I have sat on the bench when an order has been made. We have never been able to make such an order retrospective. It has operated from the date on which the order was made.

Mr. Steele

I agree with my hon. Friend, but if he will read Subsection (4, a) he will see there the words: to the Board or the local authority concerned, in respect of the cost of assistance, whether given before or after the making of the order,… The possibilities are that the court will not make any order for retrospective pay- ment, and in that case Subsection (5) will not apply. If the court makes an order for retrospective payment, the Board will be reimbursed in respect of their 26s. a week and the residue will go to the local authority. The local authority will be in the same position as if a voluntary arrangement had been made and no court order had been made, because the local authority would have been receiving the 2IS. per week from the Board instead of receiving that sum from the husband under a voluntary arrangement. In fact, the Assistance Board would, under that arrangement, have been taking the place of the liable relative. After the court order has been made for the payment, in the example I am giving, of 30s. a week, the Board is not concerned, because the 30s. a week under the court order would inure to the local authority. The Board would be getting nothing from the court order and would be making no payment; but if the court order were less than 26s. a week, it would then be the duty of the Board to give assistance up to 26s. per week to ensure that the local authority would have the guarantee of 2IS. and that the individual would have the guarantee of 5s. per week pocket money.

I know that the matter is not easy and that the Subsection takes a little explaining, but I warn the House that if this Amendment were accepted it would be of advantage to the local authorities to go to the court and get an order, irrespective of any voluntary agreement that was offered. The local authorities would gain financially by having a court order made, whereas under the voluntary agreement they would be equitably treated. I suggest that we leave the Subsection as it stands, and I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Nield

With the leave of the House, I would like to say a few words, in view of the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. Clearly, this is rather a difficult question, but frankly I am not convinced by the answer which has been given, on the ground that the hon. Gentleman has not allowed fully for the effect of the last three lines of the Amendment. The issue is very plain. Where a person is in receipt of assistance, both from the local authority and the Board, and the cost of such assistance is recovered, we say that should be shared out equally. The effect of this Amendment is that a general account is taken. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that, so far as accommodation is concerned, the Exchequer makes grants. That is quite correct, but surely under the latter part of the Amendment that is provided for, where it is suggested that the money should be provided proportionately in so far as such cost is not to be met by any payment made or refunded to the local authority in respect of the person assisted. In other words, there is a general account into which is brought the Exchequer grant, and other moneys paid out, in the general hotch-pot, and then it is shared out fairly, in accordance with the assistance which has been given.

Amendment negatived.